The Putnam Examiner

County Officials Look to Fill Gaps in Mental Health Services

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By Janine Bowen

Putnam County health officials and medical providers are working to address deficiencies in the county’s mental health services, specifically in the areas of chemical dependencies and developmental disabilities.

During a public hearing on Wednesday night, led by Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Social Services, and Youth Bureau, Michael Piazza, a group of interested stakeholders discussed steps that need to be taken to better meet the needs of residents who are struggling with drug abuse, including opiates.

Over the last year, the county has seen many people saved from heroin overdoses thanks to Narcan, but providers are concerned about services that exist after Narcan is administered. David Gerber, director of counseling and shelter services at St. Christopher’s Inn stated he believes that anybody who is revived with Narcan should be required to undergo an assessment and have some type of follow- up treatment.

Deputy Commissioner of the Putnam County Departments of Social Services, Mental Health, and Youth Bureau, Joseph DeMarzo, said the current system in place for Narcan is not effective because it gives people the impression of a safety net when using opiates and noted he has heard of instances of one person overdosing twice in one day because of access to Narcan. This development is made worse by the fact that people outside of law enforcement are able to get trained in Narcan administration, meaning that fellow addicts can be trained to save their friends.

“With the intervention of Narcan, people think they’re Hercules now, too,” said DeMarzo. “The only way to do it is to educate the people who administer the Nacran as to what’s next.”

During the discussion, the group of about ten experts also determined that there is a need for supportive housing for people with chemical dependencies in the county, as no halfway houses or sober homes currently exist in Putnam.

The county also has inadequate services for those suffering from developmental disabilities, particularly for those diagnosed with autism. Many schools don’t know how to handle a crisis situation involving an autistic child, said providers, but Putnam County does not have any programs for that population outside of school. The group also noted that psychiatric facilities are ill equipped to handle patients who are admitted with psychiatric issues and developmental disabilities, which often leads to issues about the placement of the patient. Many times a parent or caretaker feels unsafe allowing the developmentally disabled person back into their home after a violent outbreak but there are no facilities in Putnam to accommodate these patients.

“We’ve known of people being stuck in in patient psych units for a long time because there was no safe discharge plan,” said Piazza

Piazza explained that the goal is to train law enforcement personnel within the county to know how to react if they are called to a situation involving a person with a developmental disability who may be in crisis and acting violent, as they respond and react differently than average people. The training would be on a volunteer basis and would be open to those who have previous experience or an interest working with the developmentally disabled population.

The county will also need to find a way to employ and retain people who are able to work with the developmentally disabled population. Gerber noted that there is a high turnover rate for employees working with this population because there is significant competition from New York City and Westchester County, where employees can earn a much higher wage.

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